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Agriculture

Federal Government Examines Living Conditions for Thousands of Foreign Workers

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Canada Improving Foreign Worker Living Conditions

The Canadian agricultural economy relies heavily on foreign and migrant workers for its continued prosperity. While there has been a call to take action and overhaul the foreign worker program for years now, the pandemic has pushed those priorities even further. Living conditions have long been in need of change, but the government is now looking to seriously improve the conditions for these workers — primarily from a public health perspective.

While some actions have already been put in place — such as consultations with industry leaders, provinces and territories as well as foreign workers themselves — we’re still in the beginning stages of the consistent change that needs to happen in order to thoroughly improve living conditions.

Health Risks

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept all around the world, it specifically highlighted some of the shortcomings of the current system for Canadian foreign workers in terms of health and safety. By June 2020, hundreds of Canadian agricultural workers were infected on the job, causing two fatalities.

Since many of Canada’s foreign agricultural workers rely on consistent income from their often labor-intensive jobs maintaining farms and equipment, they can’t afford to miss work, even if they’re sick. Staying home may not be much better. Housing for foreign workers keeps everyone in close quarters. Housing standards are often inconsistent, leaving many workers in cheap communal units that work as a perfect breeding ground for the virus.

Even many workers who needed to quarantine described being kept in conditions that didn’t allow for social distancing and didn’t provide adequate supplies for the required length of the quarantine. Since reports vary and standards tend to be inconsistent, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the government’s vision and the reality of the living conditions these workers are facing.

Seeking Input

The government understands that things are in need of change. Although there has been a push for improvements in the past, the pandemic has made clear just how unsightly the living conditions are. As a start, the Government of Canada is seeking input until 22 December 2020 on proposed requirements for foreign worker living conditions.

While this is a move in the right direction, requirements only make a difference if they are upheld, and that will be the key to ensuring conditions are actually maintained and improved. It’s about consistency on a municipal and local level, not just federal regulations.

Mexico Halting Foreign Workers To Canada

For now, Mexico has halted their foreign workers from coming to Canada — specifically as a result of the deaths associated with foreign worker COVID-19 outbreaks. While this doesn’t change the conditions for those already living in Canada, it did stop over 5,000 new workers from entering the country over the summer. Mexico’s ambassador to Canada maintains that this is an action of solidarity with Canada.

What Needs To Change?

While policy changes and new requirements are important to the equation, those requirements and policies need more regulation in order to uphold them on a local level. There also needs to be a push towards better working and living conditions for foreign workers on the whole — not just in terms of residencies.

Reducing the number of hours these workers spend on the job, paying them better wages and providing them with universal health care are all changes that would benefit the health and safety of foreign workers — and incentivize workers to stay home if they’re sick. They are an integral part of the Canadian economy, and they deserve better rights and conditions.

Making Steady Improvements

Although the Canadian government is just now beginning to make strides towards improving conditions for their foreign workers, they’re definitely heading in the right direction. From here, things will look up as long as they remain committed and make sure they keep human rights a priority.

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

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Agriculture

Olymel temporarily closes due to COVID-19

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This is a news release from Olymel L.P.

Olymel announces the temporary closing of its Red Deer plant

Olymel management is announcing the temporary closing of its hog slaughtering, cutting and deboning plant in Red Deer, Alberta. Despite the testing protocols and sanitary measures already in place, as well as the close collaboration of Alberta Health Services to deal with a resurgence of positive cases of Covid-19 among plant employees, Olymel management believes that the conditions are no longer assembled to continue normal operations in a safe and efficient manner.

After notifying the union, Olymel management drew up an orderly temporary closing plan for an indefinite period. Over the next few days, plant management will mobilize the staff necessary to cease operations and complete the facility closure as soon as possible. The sanitary measures will continue to be in effect at the plant during the shutdown and Olymel management will be in contact with officials at Alberta Health Services to continue working closely with this organization.

Olymel sincerely hopes that all employees at the Red Deer plant who have tested positive for Covid-19 soon regain their health. The company will follow up with all employees to ensure their quarantine period is being respected and will strongly encourage all staff to get tested before returning to work. Olymel will also continue ongoing investigations to determine what may have caused such a large outbreak of Covid-19 cases since January 20.

Olymel management has also informed all hog suppliers of the Red Deer plant of the situation and has suspended all pending deliveries until further notice.

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Agriculture

What’s going on in India?

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In many places around the world, the global turmoil of 2020 has been deeply exacerbated by accompanying political violence. The United States, Belarus, and India are just a few locations that have faced growing levels of internal violence and discord as political protests have led to dangerous clashes between citizens and governing bodies. 

In India, where the COVID-19 pandemic has been rampant throughout the course of 2020, citizens have also experienced ongoing political uncertainty as recent protests against the Narendra Modi government have been met with violence. 

Prime Minister Narenda Modi

The upheaval began in August in response to the Modi government’s decision to pass 3 reform laws that would negatively impact local farmers in India’s agricultural sector. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, the Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities Bill were passed on September 20, 2020. These laws, which were allegedly hurried through parliament with little to no regard for the concerns expressed by existing farming organizations in India, serve to ease corporate restrictions and remove regulations put in place to protect farmers and their product. 

Although there does appear to be a consensus surrounding the need for reform in India’s agricultural sector, the laws passed by the Modi government have been condemned for failing to meet the requirements of a fair, legitimate transition. According to Time, “While the government says the new laws will “empower farmers”, unions say the rule changes are not policies they have asked for. Instead they fear that instead of trying to help farmers, the government is opening the door to big corporations who may eventually force them off their land and out of their business.” 

Peaceful protests then emerged as a public response to the actions of the Modi government. The protests, which originated in Punjab and Haryana as a collaborative movement among Indian farmers, have since mobilized tens of thousands of farmers and supporters from across the country to march on the Indian capital. The protestors flooded New Delhi’s main entry points, where they have since set up camps to maintain their position and stand firmly for their cause, requesting the repeal of the 3 reform bills. 

Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, where many of the participants are senior members of the community, since September they have been increasingly met with violence from the state. “Protestors have been met with water cannons on some of the coldest winter days Delhi has experienced,” Global News reported in December, “along with tear gas, concrete barricades, and some were even beaten with batons.” As a result of state-mandated violence and harsh outdoor conditions in Delhi, a total of 65 deaths were reported between November 26, 2020 and January 3, 2021 (1).
Individuals and organizations around the world have since come forward to stand in solidarity with Indian farmers and condemn the acts of violence being perpetrated against them by military and law enforcement. 

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, the Indian Supreme Court announced it was “halting the market-friendly laws until a committee of experts, appointed by the court, could consult with government officials and protesting farmers to try to find a solution to the dispute” (2). However, protestors have expressed initial skepticism following this announcement, and intend to maintain their positions within the protest camps until the laws are repealed. 

“It’s cold and it’s hard to arrange water every morning for a bath,” says Shabek Singh, a member of the protests who remains camped in one of the established tent cities, “but we’re not going anywhere. We will make this our temple” (3).

 

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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